He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision—he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath—”The horror! The horror!”
–Joseph Conrad, The Heart of Darkness
Nothing better sums up my own emotions concerning the devastating blow that Israel has inflicted on Gaza in the past 24 hours, than Kurtz’ final words on his death bed as he contemplates the utter disaster that he and his fellow colonialists have inflicted on the Congo.
It is the seventh night of Hanukah, and Sol Salbe tells me that the military operation’s name, Solid Lead (or “Cast Lead”), derives from Chaim Nachman Bialik’s children’s poem, For Hanukah:
Teacher bought a big top for me,
Solid lead, the finest known.
In whose honor, for whose glory?
For Hanukkah alone.
It is just like modern Israel and Zionism to appropriate Jewish history, holiday and tradition to justify its own agenda. Quite macabre also to think that the IDF has defiled a delightful children’s poem by Bialik in order to convey the power of its onslaught against Hamas (“solid lead”).
According to Al Jazeera, 271 Gazans are dead (along with one Israeli), nearly 1,000 wounded. Sol Salbe tells me this is the worst loss of life in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict going back to 1967. Devastation is everywhere:
…There was a shocking quality to Saturday’s attacks, which began in broad daylight as police cadets were graduating, women were shopping at the outdoor market, and children were emerging from school.
The center of Gaza City was a scene of chaotic horror, with rubble everywhere, sirens wailing, and women shrieking as dozens of mutilated bodies were laid out on the pavement and in the lobby of Shifa Hospital so that family members could identify them. The dead included civilians, including several construction workers and at least two children in school uniforms.
By afternoon, shops were shuttered, funerals began and mourning tents were visible on nearly every major street of this densely populated city.
Phil Weiss quotes an eyewitness report from Safe Joudeh:
…People are going through the dead terrified of recognizing a family member among them. The streets are strewn with their bodies, their arms, legs, feet, some with shoes and some without. The city is in a state of alarm, panic and confusion…hospitals and morgues are backed up and some of the dead are still lying in the streets with their families gathered around them, kissing their faces, holding on to them. Outside the destroyed buildings old men are kneeling on the floor weeping. Their slim hopes of finding their sons still alive vanished after taking one look at what had become of their office buildings.
And even after the dead are identified, doctors are having a hard time gathering the right body parts in order to hand them over to their families. The hospital hallways look like a slaughterhouse. It’s truly worse than any horror movie you could ever imagine. The floor is filled with blood, the injured are propped up against the walls or laid down on the floor side by side with the dead. Doctors are working frantically…
It is an Israeli Shock and Awe (and you remember how that turned out). Ehud Barak has prepared a veritable 12 course feast of blood, gore, and mayhem for Gaza. It is Barak’s ultimate political play for the coming elections. If he wins, then he helps Labor maintain its ever-fainter role in Israeli national politics. If he fails, then he and Labor sink together.
The Israeli government had seemed to be preparing Israelis for a tactical short-term operation meant to punish Hamas for recent rocket barrages against southern Israel. But Operation Solid Lead seems anything but that. It may fall short of the full-scale invasion and reoccupation of Gaza which some had feared, but it won’t fall short by much:
Ehud Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Sky News on Saturday that he would not rule out widening the offensive in the Gaza Strip to include a ground invasion.
“There is a time for calm and a time for fighting, and now the time has come to fight,” he said.
…Asked whether Israel would follow up the air strikes with a ground offensive, Barak said, “If boots on the ground will be needed, they will be there.”
“Our intention is to totally change the rules of the game,” he said.
How many times have we heard this delusional thinking before? Lebanon 1982, Lebanon 2006, countless Gaza operations, and on and on. And how many times has the IDF changed the rules of the game? Not once. It has never eradicated opposition whether in Gaza or Lebanon, and it never will by military means. In fact, as George Bush discovered in Iraq, instead of eliminating a terrorist threat, by taking the fight to the “enemy” (whether Iraqi or Gazan) you actually create enemies you never had before.
Keep in mind that until today, no Israeli had been killed in the most recent round of rocket attacks going back for the past few weeks.
We see how effective the IAF operation has been so far in its stated aim of ending the missile barrages against Israeli targets: Hamas has ratcheted up its capabilities by striking Ashdod and Ashkelon with longer range missiles than it has used before. Scores of rockets are raining down on Israeli towns and cities. We can probably expect more, and perhaps much more, of this to come. If Israeli troops move into the Strip we can expect not only larger Palestinian casualty counts, but IDF casualties as well.
Khaled Meshal has called from Damascus for a third Intifada. Even if you attribute this to a grandstanding gesture of a militant desperate to retrieve some sense of honor from the brutal slaughter, you cannot fully discount the rhetoric. A third Intifada is entirely possible especially if Israel intends to occupy Gaza or continue this operation for any length of time.
I was struck by this statement of bold defiance by Ismail Haniyeh because the images he conveyed of Palestinian leaders suffering death for their people reminded me of an account of Jewish suffering called Eyleh Ezkerah (also known as the Martyrology) and recited on Yom Kippur. The prayer recounts the martyrdom of such holy rabbinic figures as Rabbi Akiba in similar terms to these:
“We say in all confidence that even if we are hung on the gallows or they make our blood flow in the streets or they tear our bodies apart, we will bow only before God and we will not abandon Palestine…”
Ehud Barak and his fellow Israeli ministers never seem to learn that no matter how many tons of bombs they drop on this tiny scrap of land, they cannot cow Hamas into submission. The dispute will only end when the issues are negotiated and resolved. It will never end at the butt of the rifle. Has it been any different with our own? Have we been willing to be cowed by the Greeks, Romans, European Crusaders, Spanish Inquisitors, Czars, Nazis, British or any Arab state through our own history? Then why should we expect things will be different with the Palestinians?
When Joe Biden said during the recent campaign that a foreign leader might seek to “test” Obama in the early days of his presidency, he seemed to be referring to Vladimir Putin. Who would have thought that it would be the two Ehuds, Barak and Olmert and that they would test Obama EVEN BEFORE assuming the presidency. Steve Clemons has spoken acutely on this subject:
Part of what is going on today with Israel Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s unleashing of massive Israeli airpower against Hamas [and]…Hamas’s decision to end its “lull”…with Israel, also has a lot to do with testing the U.S. and seeing what the outlines of Obama’s policy will be.
Barack Obama cannot afford to allow his presidency and its foreign policy course to be hijacked by either side in this increasingly blurry dispute. Israel’s actions today just created thousands of aggrieved and vengeful relatives committed to delivering some blowback against Israel.
Hamas, at the same time, overplayed its hand at a fragile time…Its resumption of violence before the Israeli elections and during a time of transition in US politics triggered a devastating response from Israel that significantly undermined its own interests as a potentially responsible steward of a Palestinian state.
The violence we are watching is just yet another installment in the blur of tit-for-tat violence from both sides of this chronic foreign affairs ulcer.
The US — and the incoming Obama administration — must move an agenda forward in Israel-Palestine negotiations that works at levels higher than the perpetrators of this violence. It’s…time to stop allowing any actors in this drama to hijack the foreign policy machinery of governments trying to push forward a Palestinian state.
America has to get out of the role of “managing” this conflict — and must solve it…
So far, Obama has maintain a studied silence while the Bush Administration has unsurprisingly placed the onus on Hamas for the violence. This virtual rehash of the statements made against Hezbollah during the 2006 Lebanon war is the best that that nitwit could come up with:
…The Bush administration issued blistering criticism of Hamas, saying the group had provoked Israel’s airstrikes on Gaza by firing rockets into southern Israel.
Gordon D. Johndroe, a White House spokesman, said that Hamas…was responsible for the outbreak of violence and called its rocket attacks ”completely unacceptable. These people are nothing but thugs,” he said. “Israel is going to defend its people against terrorists like Hamas.”
In Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice…said: “The United States strongly condemns the repeated rocket and mortar attacks against Israel and holds Hamas responsible for breaking the cease-fire and for the renewal of violence in Gaza. The cease-fire should be restored immediately. The United States calls on all concerned to address the urgent humanitarian needs of the innocent people of Gaza.”
Of course the ceasefire should be restored immediately. This was Israel’s position till it began bombing Gaza back to the Stone Age. Israel would love to have calm in the south restored while continuing the Gaza siege. In this, Condi is doing nothing but carrying Israel’s water. And calling for attention to the humanitarian needs of Gaza precludes you from paying attention to the political issues at the heart of the humanitarian crisis. In other words, Bushites are calling for band-aids in the middle of a raging epidemic.
Obama will have to take a stance. This will not do:
Brooke Anderson, a spokeswoman for Mr. Obama, said that while Mr. Obama was monitoring global events, “There is one president at a time.”
He cannot leave this mess to the outgoing Bushites who have made such a mess of it over the past eight years. Obama’s position must be more flexible, creative and vigorous than Bush’s. He simply cannot side with Israel and provide nothing for the Palestinians. I hope he and his advisors realize this.
J Street has made a magnificent statement that attests to its willingness to tackle the truly tough issues in this conflict. I only wish other American Jewish organizations could be as boldly proactive:
…Real friends of Israel recognize that escalating the conflict will prove counterproductive, igniting further anger in the region and damaging long-term prospects for peace and stability.
Respecting Israel’s right to defend itself, we urge leaders there to recognize that there is no military solution to what is fundamentally a political conflict between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.
Today’s IDF strikes will deepen the cycle of violence in the region. Retaliation is inevitable, though we don’t know how far the violence will spread or how many more Israelis and Palestinians will die and suffer in the days and weeks to come.
We call for immediate, strong diplomatic intervention by the United States…
We urge the incoming Obama administration to lead an early and serious effort to achieve a comprehensive diplomatic resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli conflicts.
This is a fundamental American interest as we too stand to suffer as the situation spirals, rage in the region is directed at the United States, and our regional allies are further undermined. Our goals must be a Middle East that moves beyond bloody conflicts, an Israel that is secure and accepted in the region, and an America secured by reducing extremism and enhancing stability. None of these goals are achieved by further escalation.
Even in the heat of battle, as friends and supporters of Israel, we need to remember that only diplomacy and negotiations can end the rockets and terror and bring Israel long-term security and peace.
J Street plans a petition campaign which they will announce tomorrow.
As bloggers blog about Gaza, if they send me their links I’ll include them each day in my own posts so readers can sample a broader discussion of these issues. What I want to avoid at all costs is the mirage that some in the media saw during the last Lebanon war when several reporters wrote wonderingly about the supposed lack of opposition among liberal bloggers to Israel invasion. Let American Jewry, Israel and the U.S. media know that there IS Jewish opposition to the Gaza massacre.